Federer’s Remarkable 2017 Run

Federer’s resurrection since the beginning of 2017 has been nothing short of remarkable. After suffering three grand slam final losses to Djokovic since 2014, another semi-final loss at the Australian Open last year, and finally a Wimbledon semi-final to Raonic, he pulled out of the rest of 2016 with an injury.

At that point, I think most people thought he had missed his chance to win the elusive 18th slam. I for one did. I knew he would always be a threat as long as he played but the last thing I expected was for him to win the first slam he competed in after a six-month break.

Granted, the change is court speed in Melbourne played a key role in him winning the title but it was still a remarkable turn of events. It seemed too good to be true almost, especially with him defeating his nemesis from a break down in the fifth set.

You couldn’t make it up. But it happened and now Federer continued in the same remarkable fashion by winning the Indian Wells/Miami double. All of this at the age of 35, an age at which most tennis players are either heavily declined or retired.

What gives? Some have attributed his run to doping. Unfortunately, with the poor doping controls and the capitalist culture where corruption is rampant one can’t just dismiss these allegations off the bat if one is objective and honest.

It sure is tempting to believe that given such a remarkable and peRFect script. When Federer was losing to Djokovic and others in slams in the last few years Fedfans always used the excuse of his lack of stamina due to age.

What happened to that narrative after Federer won three five-set matches to win the Australian Open or to complete the Indian Wells/Miami double spanning three weeks which included two brutal three-set matches in Miami’s oppressive heat?

Certainly, a case for doping can be made in this situation and the behavior of Fedfans provide even more incentive for it. But since I am unbiased and objective(unlike them) I believe in innocent until proven guilty.

As far as I’m concerned if one is doping then it is very likely that all of them are doping in which case it evens out. I just don’t appreciate hypocrisy where Nadal or Djokovic is singled out but the possibility that Saint Federer is doping is entirely out of the question.

I used to accuse Nadal myself as a Federer fan when I still believed Federer represented good and Nadal evil, but I overcame my fanaticism. The world is not that black and white.  I think it’s immature to worship one player like a god and vilify the other like he is the devil.

  • Federer is a Rare Talent

The fact that Federer is a rare talent should be obvious. I say it to help explain why Federer could possibly achieve this remarkable transformation without doping. The truth is he’s been a different player since the beginning of 2014.

That is when he made changes to his equipment and coaching staff. Federer was immediately an improved player but it wasn’t until the second half of 2015 that he really peaked with his new racquet and attacking game style taught by Edberg.

He destroyed everyone in his path at Wimbledon, the US Open, and the Australian Open in 2016 but kept running into Djokovic who disposed of him with relative ease. Then at Wimbledon last year where Djokovic lost early, Federer could not take advantage due to a lack of proper preparation after pulling out of the French Open and also due to some terrific tennis from Raonic.

Given the lack of preparation for Wimbledon, I thought he already did an amazing job by reaching the semis and coming close to winning the title. So I suppose it is not all that surprising that he could come back to win the Australian Open.

One could argue that his preparation was even worse after a six-month layoff but he did play the Hopman Cup and maybe the break was a good thing in that it rested his body and recharged his batteries. We have seen Nadal doing the same thing in 2013.

Many people, especially Fedfans, argued that Nadal was doping to explain his remarkable return in 2013 and the same people are now defending Federer from doping accusations. Be that as it may, maybe that long a break can really recharge players after being on tour for many years without a significant break.

I happen to think Djokovic may have benefited significantly from such a break by taking the year off after Wimbledon like Federer did. Hindsight is always 20/20 but judging from all the injuries and mental burnout he struggled with after that it was exactly what he needed.

For Federer, the break also provided the opportunity to work on some things like his backhand which helped him to defeat Nadal. Federer is such a unique talent that you can’t dismiss the possibility that he achieved all of this naturally either.

It’s the best start of a season he’s had since 11 years ago in 2006 which seems ridiculous but then there was also early losses of Djokovic in Melbourne and Indian Wells and his withdrawal from Miami.

Murray has also been a poor number one so far but I have my doubts as to whether he can ever defeat Federer in his current form. So other than Federer’s seemingly unlimited talent there are several other factors which could also help explain this seemingly unrealistic dominance like Nadal’s decline, Djokovic’s struggles, and the changed court speed in Melbourne.

The scheduling has also been good to Federer. In Melbourne, he had a much needed two-day break before the final and in Miami, he had another much needed day off before the final. Things sure seem to be going his way of late.

And I am happy for the non-fanatical Federer fans who had to wait a long time for Federer to win his 18th slam and probably stopped believing it would ever happen after Federer got injured again last year.

I also think it is good for tennis. I don’t like the fanaticism that goes with it but that is hardly Federer’s fault. My problem has never really been with him anyway. It’s just the cult-like following that gets on my nerves.

Djokovic is my favorite player but I don’t hate Federer or anything and I still enjoy his tennis. I also don’t have a problem giving credit and I am not biased in this regard. But the Kyrgios incident genuinely bothered me and it doesn’t make me biased to call it out.

I know Federer fanatics would love to believe I am biased and it is all just sour grapes because that would mean they don’t have to face up to their fanaticism, but they won’t get off that easily. Besides, expressing my displeasure with the Kyrgios incident doesn’t change the outcome.

Federer won the 2017 Miami title and that’s the way it will stay.

  • What Can We Expect for the Near Future?

Federer has said his body needs a break and that he won’t play any clay court events in the lead-up to the French Open. His focus is on Wimbledon and the second half of the year which makes sense given his age but he must be tempted to go for a second French Open title now that he seems to have Nadal under control.

So I’m not convinced he won’t take a wild card in Rome and make a serious run at Roland Garros. If Djokovic gets the double career slam it’s gonna be another big achievement that sets him apart from Federer.

But Federer knows he can’t push himself too hard or he could risk another injury so it is probably the wise thing to save himself after all the success he’s had of late. In his current form, he is practically a lock for the Wimbledon title and he doesn’t want to risk that.

With Federer looking to take it easy during the clay court season this is Djokovic’s chance to get back in the game, but unlike Federer he doesn’t seem to understand how to schedule. After making the mistake to play Acapulco he is at it again by playing Davis Cup this coming weekend.

The elbow injury after Indian Wells signaled that he still hasn’t recovered from a very demanding run from 2015-16 after all this time but he doesn’t seem to get the message. With a critical clay and grass court season coming up it seems like insanity not to get all the rest he possibly can.

But at least Davis Cup is a maximum of three matches per player so hopefully, it won’t cost him big time later on.

If Djokovic wins the French Open the grass court season becomes interesting. Or else Federer pretty much collects his Wimbledon title. If he fails at the French he could go slamless this year which would allow Federer to clean up and settle the GOAT debate with ease.

Nadal will also make a serious run at his 10th French Open after his recent form while Murray will look to reassert himself too. Stan is also a big threat on clay. I’m very much looking forward to the clay court season.

The Masters events will tell us a lot about what is to come at the French Open!

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19 Comments

  1. Ru-an, Nice comment, innocent until proven guilty, and also the either drug use is widespread or non-existent. I am a huge Federer fan, but also very cognizant of Djokovic and Nadal’s exemplary tennis feats. I was telling a friend about Novak’s 4 sun shine doubles or Nadal’s 9 MC titles which would never be replicated. As fans of these greats we have our own measure of what attributes to greatness and trying to put our favorites above the rest.These attributes could be H2H, Grandslam titles, perceived strength of the field, consistency, longevity etc. One thing I know about these 3 are they always push each other to get better. I don’t think by any means this is over until they hang their boots and we could never have a conclusive GOAT discussion.

    As far as Federer’s resurgence, court speed in Australia has helped his cause. I think it attributed to his confidence that court will carry over his effort and he fought and fought against Rafa. They had a longest rally of 16 (or 18) shots in 5th set, and there were not too many rallies. Though Djoker is nearly unstoppable, Federer prevailed in some fast surfaces in Dubai, and Shanghai. Federer carried his confidence and Lubijic’s role cannot be underestimated as he deserves lots of credit for his backhand against Nadal.

    Finally Djoker dominated everyone in 2015, early 2016, however he did not dispose Federer with relative ease. Aus Open 2016 was a blow out, but the major finals were competitive especially 2014 wimbledon.

    Cheers!!

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Thanks, Kumaran. You are right that the big three all have their respective strengths and achievements. For me balance is very important. Not necessarily extreme achievements in one area or surface.

    What I meant with ‘relative ease’ is that it didn’t go to five sets in any of those three meetings. At Wimbledon the last couple of sets was routine. At the USO the crowd played a major role so under those conditions the third and fourth sets were routine as well. Same with the first two sets at the AO, although I still wouldn’t call the entire match a blowout.

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  2. Eh. I don’t know about the doping anymore. I honestly thought for a while just everyone who was good was doing it (Federer too) just because how poorly it’s managed on the ATP and of the success of the 30+ the last six years or so (see Haas and co. down to Stan) but I don’t think anyone who’s been as bold about calling them out as Federer has could possibly be doping. (He asked them to name names and add way more testing). For Nadal I just think Fuentes is unbelievably shady but maybe Nadal is just weirdly fast and just loves tennis too much to get tired. Lots of kids I see and teach even just love tennis and are weirdly fast. Novak tbh I think the egg probably helped more than the gluten free. I think gluten free for is just a fad for us Millenials but either way the two together are plausible explanations. Djokovics turnaround was a lot slower than people realize just no one paid attention. Maybe the guys are just figuring it out

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Right, with Djokovic the egg could have helped but that was legal so no problem there.

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    Darrell Robbins Reply:

    Oh yeah, no problem with the egg. I was just pointing out everyone’s quick obsession w/gluten free the past few years.

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  3. If anyone thinks you are biased they should read this post. Well done Ru-an.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Thanks, Danielle! I admit to a certain amount of bias because I have my favorites but that doesn’t mean I can’t look at things objectively or give credit where it’s due.

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  4. An extremely balanced write-up Ru-an. Keep up the good work. Though sometimes I may not agree with you, I am still a huge fan of your column. In my opinion, in 2017, Federer’s retooled backhand has compensated for whatever foot speed he has lost over the years. This hugely improved backhand has contributed a lot to his 2017 success. Did you notice in the MIami final, at the beginning of the first set, Rafa mostly avoided the backhand side of Fed; hitting more to his forehand. How many times have you seen that happen? I am really looking forward to Fed Djokovic rivalry in 2017. I am sure you too!

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Thanks, man! I appreciate you sticking around as well despite me becoming a Djokovic fan. Obviously, I don’t consider you the fanatical type. It does look like Federer worked on his bh during his break and improved it even more but we also know it has been better since he changed his racquet in 2014. It appears he is stepping into it more now while Nadal’s forehand has lost some sting. It is subtle changes like that can make a big difference.

    Why didn’t Federer attempt to try that before for instance? He did but it didn’t work because Nadal’s forehand was too vicious and his speed was such around the court that it probably wouldn’t have made much of a difference anyway.

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    Jiten Reply:

    Thanks Bro. Your last para says it all. I strongly believe that this so called comeback by Dull this time around is over hyped. In all the tourneys in 2017 except probably the AO, I have observed a particular pattern. He plays very well in the first few rounds against mediocre opponents where he is able to run through them with his forehand. But once he starts bumping into some worthy opponent, the viciousness of the forehand stops working. Also the power of his serve starts losing its venom towards the later part of most of the matches. Majority of his double faults has come from him netting them (some of them ending even at the lower part of the net), showing the gradual lack of power on his shoulder or some muscle as the match progresses. Moreover he no longer possesses that brutal, ruthless power and energy which enabled him to run like headless chickens in his heydays earlier. I have observed him stopping halfway through chasing a ball in many of his recent matches.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Exactly. There is a certain intensity lacking from his tennis. He is not that animal he used to be on a tennis court. He is more subdued now. It’s like you said, in recent years I have seen him play well plenty of times in earlier rounds looking like he is back but he just keeps stumbling across one of the last hurdles. I mean he can’t even beat Querrey to win Acapulco. Still no titles in 2017.

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  5. Ruan, nice post.

    With regards to doping, we don’t have elements to be conclusive I want to think that it’s not going on. I don’t even like the idea of a level playing field, because there’d be lots of players in the circuit that are not doing, and would had been unfairly treated. I’d not like to wake up in a few years and have to look at this era of tennis like we look at the feats accomplished by the likes of Lance Armstrong in cycling, which is we just ask ourselves why we lost time on those cheaters.

    With regards to Federer’s level, I think he has improved after the break, but like you said, he was already showing a high level before, and even so, he still needed some things to go his way to get results. He could have won a GS earlier too (had Djokovic had a bad day during an earlier round, Raonic not catching fire at Wimbledon), so though I think he’s favorite for Wimbledon and the last part of the season, I don’t think he’s at a level where we may think of him as having titles locked in (as we used to know of Djokovic over the last couple years, earlier Federer, or Nadal at FO).

    Finally, Djokovic playing Davis Cup. Can it be that he’s treating those matches as training (to get back his rhythm, feeling, try out some new stuff, etc.)? I mean, I would expect him to be training already for the clay season (though it’s true that the surface doesn’t match).

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Thanks, Ryan. You are right about the locked in part. Nothing is certain in tennis. But I do feel like Federer is the overwhelming favorite to win Wimbledon unless Djokovic gets it together and wins the FO. Why is he playing on hard court before the clay court season?

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  6. Why is fed dominating at 35? He’s proved a lot of us wrong. I never expected it but now it’s happening I think it is explainable…. First take the results against rafa. One factor here is fed’s improved backhand. The topspin forehand to one handed backhand dynamic always gave nadal a massive advantage in their matchup. Now that that advantage is gone rafa can’t hurt roger. Nadal may also have lost a yard of pace: that’s a killer for a guy who relies so much on defense. So fed’s results against nadal are explainable. What about his results against the rest of the field. Here you have to ask – which of these guys do you actually expect to beat a fully fit roger – even at 35? He hasn’t had to play nole or andy this year. Stan obviously has played some brilliant tennis (and some not so great) in the last few years. But you’d always give roger a chance against stan: the mental edge in that matchup is with fed, no? And stan himself is getting into his thirties. So who else is there? You have a bunch of brilliantly talented players who are now getting into their early thirties – rafa, nole, andy, stan, and also the likes of berdych, gasquet, Tsonga, monfils. 4 of those are slam champions and the rest are guys with physical or mental shortcomings who were never quite good enough. And they’ve taken too many beatings at this point. Look at Berdych. His two games against fed this year are his career in a nutshell. Either he doesn’t turn up, or he turns up and plays some great tennis and chokes. I don’t expect a non-injured fed to lose to these guys, so who else is there? Delpo has never had a proper injury free run and cilic had one good run of form 3 years ago and went back to being a bum.
    Now we get to the point. The next generation…. who is there between the age of 21 and 30 who’s capable of stepping up? Nishikori? Even if he wasn’t always injured he doesn’t have enough game. Raonic? File under ‘one dimensional’. Dimitrov? This guy looked the part in 2014 Wimbledon but until this year’s Aussie open has done nothing since. Tomic? Haha. The fact is we’re looking to a 21 year old – Kyrgios – who has only recently started to show some interest in being a professional tennis player, and a 19 yar old – Zverev – to mount a challenge. It may be hard for fed fans to admit it now and it was hard for nole fans to admit it a year ago but it’s hard for any objective tennis watcher to deny. Tennis is being dominated by older players and has been for some time because the generation that should be dominating tennis at this point is historically weak. I hope this isn’t taken as a dig against your guy nole. (I don’t think he had it easy in 2011.) And you can only beat whoever’s across the net. But if fed continues to dominate (I still think he will run out of steam – I know what 36 feels like) or andy murray wins a bunch more slams I think it’s hard to argue that a large reason is the failure of that generation.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Oh sure there is no doubt that the next generation has been a bit weak but the big four has also been very strong, and the age at which tennis players peak have increased. Djokovic still had Federer, Murray, Stan, and Nadal to deal with all be it a declined Nadal. Federer was still playing very well as evidenced by his current dominance. I think Raonic, Nishikori, and Dimitrov has been a bit of a failed generation but again, a lot of that has to do with the big four just being so good.

    They are certainly not bad players. But I think Zverev and Kyrgios are serious talents and Thiem has been decent as well. I don’t think the future of tennis is in trouble or anything. It may just appear that way because the big four was so dominant.

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  7. Yeah Thiem is a nice player. Zverev is the real deal and if Kyrgios can get his head right the future looks good. But if we’re asking who can stop fed if he continues to play at this level then we’re looking at Djokovic, if he can get it together again, and maybe Murray (though he hasn’t proved much of an obstacle to fed in slams in the past), rafa on clay maybe, and then those young guys, right? I’ve heard that line about the peak tennis age increasing before and I can’t say there isn’t something in it. But I’m not sold. What evidence is it based on beyond the continuing failure of the ‘failed generation’? I find it hard to think of many examples of current players who obviously peaked later than 25/26. Stan is one case; but I’d argue his case is untypical. The ‘big 4′ were all winning slams or competing in finals in their teens/early 20s. Was Djokovic in 2011 obviously inferior to 2015? Has murray got better or benefited from others’ misfortunes? If the ‘failed generation’ start winning big when they hit 28 I’ll take that as evidence that players now peak later but I won’t hold my breath :-) .

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Yes, there is evidence that players are peaking later. It’s just like people are living longer. Nutrition improves, players become stronger and fitter, recovery techniques improve, technology improves, etc. People are staying younger and healthier for longer so it is only natural that athletes will have longer shelf lives.

    Just compare the average age of the top 10 now to the average age some years ago and I’m sure you’ll find an increase. I just checked and the average age of the top 10 is 29. Decline used to start around the age of 26. Now you have guys reaching their peak past that age like Stan, Ferrer, Djokovic, Murray, Anderson, Lopez, Fognini etc. And you have fewer teens breaking through.

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  8. “As far as I’m concerned if one is doping then it is very likely that all of them are doping in which case it evens out.”

    A mistake a lot of people make. It’s not true. One body can react better to a drug than another body. It doesn’t have to even out really. Look for the term “super responder.” This implication means that you could have a different winner without drugs than with drugs. Happens a lot in bodybuiding competitions for example. Without a doubt, same thing applies to whatever drugs one takes.

    I just like to believe that tennis is one of the sports (just like football, “soccer” for Americans) where doping does not happen. In tennis the mental aspect of the game still stands so taking drugs would be less of an advantage, but still a huge advantage nonetheless.

    Just my two cents.

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    I think you are splitting hairs. Doping works for everyone, just like recreational drugs do.

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